No corner turned yet for East Preston

Tuesday evening saw the last scheduled midweek game for East Preston after a busy couple of months cramming games in a fixture list than began a month behind its usual start date in August.

Like most clubs at this level and I know I’ve mentioned it fairly regularly, but they’ve done well off the pitch to keep people safe at games against a backdrop of diminishing volunteers and a constant battering of regulations to further reduce income that keeps these smaller clubs alive.

On the pitch things haven’t gone quite as expected since the game began again on 1st September. Just one win in all competitions in nearly two months wasn’t the way it was supposed to pan out and this time last week Terry Dodd tendered his resignation to the club committee which was accepted, Terry as we know through this blog doesn’t like losing and maybe just felt there was little he could to change things around despite his best efforts, money talks at all levels of the game.

Step forward Chris Horner! A rapid rise from the Under 23’s to 1st team manager in a few weeks, football does not stand still. As expected and often happens in the County League when a manager leaves, players invariably do as well and this situation is no different.

Despite most playing in the weekend defeat to Longfield, around eight left the club prior to Steyning’s visit to the Lashmar, Guy Church and Tijan Sparks appearing to be the only survivors from the Dodd reign and the side littered with new signings and promotions from the Under 23 squad.

Having seen EP two weeks or so prior to this one, they put up a strong fight in the Vase against Fisher, but capitulated three days later, 4-0 down at half time to Hassocks before rallying back to 4-3 which in a way leaves you unsure which EP makes its onto the pitch.

It did look to be a long night in front of the home side as they dealt with some strong attacking pressure in the opening minutes, the visitors coming close to opening the scoring on eleven minutes the EP defence just managing to clear off the line after pinball in the penalty area.

The hosts were able just to deal with everything the visitors threw at them and a fine save from debutant keeper Adam Brodrick kept the scores level. Steyning though eventually took the lead just before the half hour mark, an unmarked George Cousins on hand to fire past Brodrick, who was unable to hold onto the ball, and give Town a deserved lead that they took into half time.

With the ball just not holding up with the strikers, EP struggled to fashion many clear cut chances despite the midfield promptings of Jamie Frankling and the returning Tijan Sparkes.

The lead was increased for the visitors on 58 minutes, James Magrath’s header from a corner couldn’t be kept out and EP were now having to take a few more risks to try and get back into the game.

The introduction of Matt Storm from the bench provided a few flurries in the visitor’s penalty area and EP indeed should have pulled one back but as so often this season the lack of attacking intent send the home side to another league defeat.

Plenty of work to be done for the new boss and I caught up with him after the game to see what’s planned to try and turn things around:

‘My first objective is to get the goal average down and I guess we did alright with that tonight, that was our lowest defeat for a while, but at the same not clinical enough still in front of goal. I thought Adam did well in goal for his debut and will get sharper with games.’

‘Both of my strikers are deadly in front of goal and once they get into a good rhythm as a partnership I’m hoping things change.’

‘I am actively looking to bring some more experienced bodies in, I have dialogue open with a few clubs, but they have to be the right person both on and off the pitch to take us in the right direction. With no budget it is making things harder, but watch this space……’

Have to mention Dan Howick who had a fantastic game alongside skipper Charlie Robinson at the back for EP, head or foot on everything that came his way, those two could be key along with Sparks and Frankling in front of them plus three or four players with good experience to get the side up the table.

Dodd: People will tell you I’m the worst loser

Saturday was a break from watching league action and delving into the FA Vase for the first time this season, which tied in nicely with the two week blog update for East Preston and their boss Terry Dodd.

So far this season it’s been a tough watch for EP fans and I think Terry would agree he’s learnt more in seven weeks about managing at this level of football than he did in his spell at Wick last season where things were fairing much better.

That’s not to say he’s doing a bad job, far from it. All of you know money talks in football and even at this level and Step 6 below without even a small budget attracting players is very hard and even more so when you’re in a saturated area for clubs to choose from.

The effect covid has had on these clubs up and down the country is immense, I’ve said it lots of times I am surprised that so few have gone under and that is huge credit to the band of volunteers that keep them going week after week. The latest countrywide restrictions mean football club bars have to be closed by 10pm, which throughout the week and especially midweek match nights are once again crippling and playing with the very future of our footballing pyramid.

In his programme notes on the weekend the chairman eluded to how much the club was losing. The previous Tuesday the bar took around £300 less than usual while the Under 23 game night saw around £200 going through the till which when you consider for a lot of clubs this money is what makes the football work it’s a wonder that all of them will get through to the end of the season.

Despite the reduced prize money in the national competitions this season it still provides some more income at a time when it’s most needed and the visit of Southern Counties East Premier Division side Fisher gave the opportunity for that and a break from league football.

Fisher have had an indifferent start to their campaign and sit mid-table in the predominantly Kent based league despite hailing from South London, EP meanwhile have found the going much tougher and currently sit bottom of the Southern Combination Premier Division.

Not too surprisingly it was a fairly even start to the first half, neither side able to create many clear cut chances although the visitors started to grow into the game the longer it went on. Backed by a very good travelling support Fisher went in front on 35 minutes through Melvin Adesida, pouncing on a loose ball in the area to slot past keeper Keelan Belcher. EP thought they were level just five minutes later through Thaikay David-Day but his shot was cleared off the line while the visitors almost had a second just before the break, hitting the bar much to the relief of Belcher and his defenders.

The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, Fisher looking the more likely to create chances while EP lived on the counter-attack to utilise the hard running of Conor Bull and the pace of Morgan Day. A superb one handed save from Belcher on the hour mark kept the hosts in the game and you felt with only the one goal still in it a lapse in concentration was all EP needed to get back into the tie.

However, that of course can stretch a game and Fisher finally put the tie beyond their hosts in the 79th minute, Jamie Yila rounding Belcher and slotting home between the two defenders on the line.

Day was the clear outstanding performer for the home side who badly missed Tijan Sparkes and Brad Lewis in the middle of midfield, the young side unable to cope with the physical presence of the visitors.

Catching up with boss Terry Dodd on Monday morning, he’s not too despondent about things and still expects the corner to be turned shortly:

‘The loss of Tijan and Brad is huge for us, it makes it harder to compete in the middle of the park. I think we’re creating the more chances in games and on Saturday felt that we were the better team in the 2nd half but not clinical enough with our finishing.’

‘The injuries are just killing us as there’s not enough time between games to the players fit again but we have got a bit of a break in fixtures in a couple of weeks so hopefully that will give us the time we need to get some more back out on the pitch.’

‘I am working on bringing in some more bodies to add to what we’ve got here and if I can bring in the right players to compliment what we already have here and then we will start climbing up the table.’

‘I’ve got some good lads here and I enjoy every game with them, obviously not the results at the moment! Everyone will tell you I’m the worst loser but I think I am learning more about myself, the team, and the game week by week. I hope they are as well and if they keep giving their all and learning all the time then results will easily turn around.’

Dodd confident of climbing the table

Since I last caught up with East Preston boss Terry Dodd, there has been an improvement in results and things are starting to look a little better as we come to the end of a packed September fixture list.

By the time next Tuesday rolls around the first team will have completed eight league and cup matches with contrasting fortunes in that time. The first win of the season duly arrived in the FA Vase last weekend at division lower Oakwood and the confidence that will bring is needed as we head into what is going to be another busy month in October.

Goals from Harry Franks and Cameron Lineham means EP are now off the mark for the season, but it also means some prize money coming to the club which is going to be a massive thing for all clubs this season in both FA competitions however big or small the amount. A home draw against Fisher in the next round will bring a little more money in as well, win or lose.

Prior to the Vase game a vast improvement saw the team hold Alfold to a 2-2 draw despite squandering a two goal lead but the defensive performance which was much improved on the previous week’s defeat to Loxwood which laid the foundations for the result at Oakwood.

The three new signings made before the defeat to Eastbourne Utd have added some much needed craft and guile while the return of Chad Milner to the Alfold game made a big difference, although he missed the Vase win. Working without a budget at this level does make the job a lot harder than it should be to get results and the club are very much aware and supportive of how things need to be done this season.

Dodd though is pleased with how things are starting to shape up but now expects the team to kick on:

‘I was pleased with the win last weekend, it has been coming with the way we’ve been playing over the last few games, although I didn’t think we played particularly well we still got the win and that’s all that counts.’

‘I am hoping it kicks off for us in the league now and I know I keep saying it but I really feel we aren’t too far away from all clicking together and once we do I think we’ll surprise a few people along the way.’

‘It’s always nice to have a cup run and we’ll be looking to do that, but we are aware we need results in the league and that is our main aim at the present moment. With all the games coming up again in large numbers next month we are going to need to have as many players available as we can, we’re lucky we have the Under 23 side and I’ve already called a few of them into the first team squad this season, I am however looking to bring in more attacking options in the next couple of weeks.’

For most clubs just being able to stay in business after a torrid few months is the ultimate aim, no-one can predict whether we will see everything through to the end of season and if we do how many interruptions we will encounter along the way.

Just a note about the club’s Under 23 side who have beaten a couple of County League Division Two sides in pre-season, they began their league campaign on Thursday evening at the Lashmar against Selsey and won 2-1. Bearing in mind they started the game with four 16 year olds, two 17 year old and one 18 year old and ended the game with five 16 year olds on the pitch, the future is a very bright one for this club if they can keep the players together.

EP travel to Horley Town this coming weekend ko 3pm whilst they host high flying Saltdean Utd on Tuesday night at The Lashmar ko 7.30pm.